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UK shoppers' online appetite hits £100 billion mark

New figures from IMRG show that April's online sales were worth about the same in one month as London's West End takes in a year.

Shoppers are increasingly being lured to the virtual high street, with the value of UK online shopping set to hit the 100 billion mark, according to the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG).

With online sales of 3.47 billion recorded for April, the e-tailers' trade body believes the 100 billion barrier will be broken this month, 12 years after online shopping records started.

April's online sales were equivalent to a year's takings in London's West End, according to IMRG. Its online retail index tracked a 55 per cent increase, which was the largest annual rise since December 2003. It is also far higher than the average year-on-year growth rate of 32 per cent recorded during the previous 12 months.

"This is an astonishing landmark," said IMRG's managing director, Jo Evans, who directs the Index programme.

"It's been obvious for a couple of decades that a secure, networked consumer marketplace would arrive and be popular, but actually witnessing its profound success and meteoric growth still takes my breath away."

However, it's not all plain sailing for web retailers, according to David Walmsley, the head of web selling for John Lewis Direct.

"We've seen very good growth through the first quarter of the year. However there have been tougher conditions around some technology categories such as televisions, where the growth bubble from last year is now flattening out," he said.

"For the year to date we have seen growth of 44.9 per cent compared with the same period last year."

The IMRG Index records UK online retail sales of various products and services, within sector classifications ranging from books, CDs and flowers to software, sporting goods and videos.

Given that we are talking about the value of all recorded e-commerce, since April 1995, what was the UK's first secure online shopping transaction? According to IMRG, it was the purchase of a book from WH Smith, via CompuServe.

WH Smith apparently launched its CompuServe store that month with 250 books and CD-ROMs. It was judged an instant success with the bestseller being 'The Joy of Sex'.

In May of last year, IMRG estimated that one in 10 UK retail sales took place online.

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